Contraception and menstrual cycle myths

There are a number of contraceptive methods that are highly effective in preventing pregnancy. There is also a lot of misinformation about how the reproductive system works, how to use contraception, as well as some methods that simply do not work.

Below are a number of common myths about the menstrual cycle, sex and contraception. Click on each myth to see whether it is true or false.

  • Ovulation happens in the middle of the cycle around day 14
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    The timing of ovulation is very unpredictable. Only 10% of women ovulate on day 14 of their cycle. Ovulation can happen any time from day 11-21 if your cycle is regular, and up to day 28 if your cycle is irregular.1 The timing of ovulation can also vary from cycle-to-cycle, making it impossible to know when it will happen. Due to the unpredictable nature of ovulation, it is difficult to know when the risk of conception is the greatest.

  • If my cycle is regular the ovulation will always happen in the middle of it
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    The timing of the ovulation is unpredictable and varies from cycle-to-cycle, even if the length of your menstrual cycle is regular.

  • Regular cycles exist naturally
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    Most women’s cycles are not as regular as we may think. They can be regular for a number of cycles in a row, but then have a cycle that is much shorter or longer. A woman never knows in advance if her current cycle will be longer or shorter than normal. When you use a hormonal contraceptive pill your cycles are regular (provided you take them correctly).

  • I cannot get pregnant at the beginning or at the end of my cycle
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    Because the timing of the ovulation is unpredictable and sperm can stay viable for up to 5 days in your fallopian tubes, the risk of conception from unprotected intercourse exists on almost every day of your cycle.

  • Pregnancy begins directly after unprotected sex
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    Pregnancy does not begin immediately after unprotected sex. Pregnancy begins when the fertilised egg implants in the womb, which normally happens 6-12 days after fertilisation. This means you can not be pregnant until at least the 6th day after unprotected sex.

  • Unprotected sex happens very rarely
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    If you have had unprotected sex and you do not want to become pregnant, you might be angry with yourself for not taking more care. But don’t be too hard on yourself – you are not alone.  Many women (about 30%) had unprotected sex at least once over the last year.  This is not to say that you should not take good contraceptive care, but accidents happen, so don’t think you are the only one.

  • I cannot get pregnant as long as sex takes place out of my fertile window
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    This is obviously true, but you cannot calculate with certainty when your fertile window will be. This is because the timing of ovulation is variable and unpredictable. If you think that your fertile window will always be around day 14 of your cycle, you are incorrect – your fertile time could be earlier or later,  and may vary from  one cycle to the next. If you want to avoid pregnancy you should not have unprotected sex at any time during your cycle.

  • I’m breastfeeding so I can’t get pregnant
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    While breastfeeding tends to postpone ovulation, this is not a guarantee. Ovulation can occur even when a woman is breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding you should preferably use condoms if you wish to avoid pregnancy.

  • You can’t get pregnant if the woman doesn’t have an orgasm
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    Fertilisation occurs when a sperm from the man fuses with an egg from the woman. While the man must ejaculate to release sperm, it is not necessary for the woman to have an orgasm to release an egg. A woman of childbearing age releases an egg each month as part of her regular menstrual cycle. This occurs whether or not the woman has an orgasm.

  • I don’t need contraception because we only have sex during the ‘safe’ time. You’re only fertile one day a month
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    During the average woman’s menstrual cycle there are six days when sex can result in pregnancy: the five days before egg release (ovulation), plus the day of egg release. The timing of ovulation can also differ from cycle to cycle. Therefore, pinpointing the time of ovulation is almost impossible. This means the risk of conception from unprotected sex exists on almost every day of your cycle.

  • I won't get pregnant if we have sex standing up or if the woman is on top
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    FALSE Answer

    Some people believe that having sex in certain positions, such as standing up, will force the sperm out of the woman’s vagina. However sexual positions have no effect on whether or not fertilisation occurs. When a man ejaculates, the sperm are deposited well into the vagina. The sperm will begin to move up through the cervix immediately after ejaculation.

  • I won’t get pregnant if my partner pulls out before he ejaculates
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    Pulling out before the man ejaculates, known as withdrawal, is not a foolproof method of contraception. The fluid a man releases prior to ejaculation can already contain sperm. Also, a man may simply not withdraw in time.

  • I won’t get pregnant because this is my first time having sex
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    A woman can get pregnant any time ovulation occurs, even if she’s never had sex before.